Fado and Happy Feet
Listening Post 58. Fado is about soul and spirit, and Ana Moura is extraordinary at both. On her landmark sixth album, two of the more passionate and traditional songs (Moura and Moura Encantada) play off her name: in Portuguese folklore, mouras encantadas are enchanted, seductive beings, capable of transformation, who promise treasures to whoever frees them from the spell under which they live. But Moura, the leading fadista of her generation—who doesn’t so much cross into to other genres as transform anything she touches into fado—knows that in the nineteenth century fado was also about feet, and she wants to make people dance. In Dia de Folga (Day Off), her trilling contralto cavorts with drums and accelerated Portuguese guitar: “Morning on my street/Sun through the window,” she begins, “The handy man gives his drill a rest/The rooster sleeps in, the child laughs/No tantrums today…” (video 1). The groove is mellower and jazzier, the mood suspended between hope and melancholy, in Desamparo (Helpless): “One more step and I’ll be where the road ends,” she sings, “Like a mist that comes, like a mist that passes” (video 2). Love has a definitive end in O Meu Amor Foi Para O Brasil (My Love Went to Brazil), in which she imagines her faraway beau spellbound, prey to “Women who don’t know what sin is/Whose saints are stronger than mine/Who create deaf ears in heaven” (video 3). Despite the lyrics, it is Moura who casts spells. The words “chant” and “enchant” both come from the same Latin root—cantare; in Moura’s voice, one always becomes the other. (Universal Music Portugal)
Bonus video: To see how Ana Moura transfigures anything into fado, listen to her stunning, soulful cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” from her 2012 album Desfado (video 4). The album was at the top of the Portuguese music charts for 150 weeks.